Brexit

Labour MP Conor McGinn: Jeremy Corbyn's backstop stance risks party's reputation as 'protectors of the Good Friday Agreement'

Conor McGinn said Jeremy Corbyn was failing to make it clear that Labour's opposition to the Brexit deal was different to that of the DUP and hard Brexiteers. Picture by PA/PA Wire

SOUTH Armagh-born Labour MP Conor McGinn has accused Jeremy Corbyn of jeopardising his party's reputation as protectors of the Good Friday Agreement by his "invocation of the integrity of the union" as a reason to oppose the Brexit deal.

The united Ireland-supporting Labour leader reached out to the DUP at the weekend, saying his party would negotiate an alternative withdrawal agreement with the EU.

He told Sky News that the DUP rejected the backstop for "very good and sensible reasons" and that Labour's version of Brexit would work for Arlene Foster's party.

But Mr McGinn claimed the Labour leader risks creating a "perception that he is engaging disingenuous politics" by claiming the backstop threatens the integrity of the UK.

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The MP for St Helens North, a constituency that voted to leave the EU, said Theresa May's deal was "bad" for his constituents for many reasons and that he will vote against it at Westminster.

However, he said while the basis of Labour's opposition was different to that of the DUP and hard Brexiteers, Mr Corbyn was failing to make that clear.

"There are lots of reasons to oppose this deal, whether it's protection of workers' rights, environmental protections, consumer rights and the absence of any clarity in regards to a future trade deal," Mr McGinn told The Irish News.

"But the party of the Good Friday Agreement seems not to realise that special circumstances to protect the peace process and maintain the movement of people and goods across the border are both inevitable and necessary."

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The Labour MP said a backstop that benefits businesses in Northern Ireland but not Britain was "the real politik of the the prime minister's decision to exclude membership of the single market and customs union from the negotiations".

"Our position is that we would be in a permanent customs union and that would negate any requirement for a backstop but that message doesn't seem to be coming across," he said.

"What I'm hearing from people in Northern Ireland is that they are disappointed and concerned that Labour – the party of the Good Friday Agreement – has been doing what the Tories have been doing over the past two years, in terms of being partisan and walking away from a conciliatory approach."

Mr McGinn, who believes the best solution to the Brexit conundrum is a second referendum, said a general election would be the "most transformative thing that could happen" but at the moment his party needed to be "realistic".

"We are working across all the political parties that oppose this deal."

He said before Brexit just "half-a-dozen MPs" would have attended debates on British-Irish matters but recently "everybody's an expert on Northern Ireland".

"The Tory right and hard Brexiteers, like Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, who never showed any interest whatsoever in British-Irish matters. are now all over the media saying the backstop is an affront to the integrity of the UK – and it's not.

"Labour – as the party of the Good Friday Agreement – should be clear in saying special arrangements for Northern Ireland post-Brexit do not undermine any constitutional integrity, in the sense that there are clear provisions laid out about how you would go about changing the constitutional position and as far as I'm aware Labour's position is we're not looking at that."

Mr McGinn, from Camlough, said there were "no good outcomes" from Brexit for the north.

"But I can absolutely see why people in Northern Ireland would support this deal because it does give them the best of both worlds – though it's the best of two diminished worlds."

He said the debate around Brexit had become focused on a "cul-de-sac of the trading and economic relationships" at the expense of securing rights for European Union/Irish citizens north of the border.

"All of the focus has been on frictionless borders, customs arrangements and business but my focus is on the impact it will have on people, on border communities, and the ability to live work and move freely across the border."

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